Bases of Criminology

Criminology is a discipline that studies the causes of a crime and tries to come up with the reasons for the antisocial behavior of humans. It is considered an interdisciplinary science that is founded on concepts from sociology, psychology and anthropology, based on the theoretical framework of medicine and penal law. As it is mention in the Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Criminal Science, “Criminology involves three different types of problems:

  1. The problem of detecting the law breaker, which is the work of the detective, the police officer, the medical specialist, the chemist; in other words, the field of criminalistics (…).
  2. The problem of the custody and treatment of the offender once he is detected and legally judged to be guilty, which is the work of the penologist (…).
  3. The problem of explaining crime and criminal behavior, which is the problem of scientifically accounting for the presence of crime and criminals in a society. The legal aspect of crime is of interest to the lawyer and to the sociologist who is studying the sociology of criminal law. The explanation of criminal behavior is of interest to the sociologist, the psychologist, the psychiatrist, the anthropologist and the biologist. (…) (Jeffrey 3)

However, like any other phenomenon, over the years criminology has undergone a series of modifications, in this case regarding the concepts of crime and criminal conduct. We can therefore talk about different schools of thought, being the Classical and the Modern schools the ones with more importance to the history of Criminology. Their contributions were many, but in order not to make them the main focus of this project, I will only provide a brief description of each.

The Classical School, which developed in the mid-18th century, focused its work on the crime as an action and was based on the fact that human beings possess free will and are therefore able to choose how to behave. Its doctrine was based “on the assumption that all criminals, except in a few extreme cases, are endowed with intelligence and feelings like normal individuals, and that they commit misdeeds consciously, being prompted thereto

Bentham's Panopticon

Bentham’s Panopticon

by their unrestrained desire for evil” (Ferrero 4). They gave emphasis on the crime, not on the criminal and were more concerned with the consequences of the act than with the motivation that lead to it. Classical criminalists were of the idea that men were to be punished for the crime, for what they had done, and that the penalty for each crime was to be clearly defined. The most important representatives of the Classical School were Jeremy Bentham, best known for his invention of the panopticon, and the Italian jurist and economist Cesare Beccaria, known for his essay “On crime and Punishment”, in which he argues that the punishment should be in degree to the severity of the crime.

The Modern or Positivist School developed in the 19th century as an attempt to apply scientific methods to the study of the criminal as an individual, as he was considered to be the protagonist of the crime. This school is said to be founded on Criminal Anthropology “because it embraces (the criminal’s) organic and psychic constitution and social life, just as anthropology does in the case of normal human beings and the different races” (Ferrero 5). The School starts getting shaped with the works of the Italian Cesare Lombroso, whose main research focused on the criminal man, his body and its distinctive characteristics. Later on Enrico Ferri and Raffaele Garofalo studied the causes of crime, leading then to a criminal sociology that believes that to better explain a crime it was necessary to first find an explanation of the human behavior. Unlike their counterparts on the Classical School, the positivist believed that punishment should be replaced by an individualized treatment that would protect society from the criminal. They believed that “the punishment must fit the criminal” and that men should be sentenced “not according to the seriousness of the offense, but according to the factor or factors which motivated him to commit a crime (…) The criminal, not the crime, governed the sentence or punishment given” (Jeffrey 14).

Ferri - Lombroso - Garofalo

Ferri – Lombroso – Garofalo

As we can see, the history of criminology has been witness of many important figures who had greatly influenced the field. However, the one name that cannot be left aside when taking about the early days of Criminology is that of the already mentioned Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso, whose research gained attention not only in Europe, but also in America. Lombroso has provided the public with more books and more investigations than any other criminologist and it is therefore considered by many as the father of modern criminology.


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